TWO news photographs published just days apart caught my eye this past week. The first was an image of empty chairs, some 13,000 in all, placed outside the German parliament building in Berlin.

The chairs were a symbolic protest with each one representing one of the refugees stuck in the hellhole that was the Moria reception camp on the Greek island of Lesbos. The human rights campaigners who carried out the protest did so in a plea for Moria and other desperately overcrowded camps like it to be shut down.

But events in Moria took on an alarming turn of their own yesterday, giving rise to the second image that caught my eye. It was a picture of women and children laden with bags and a few meagre belongings fleeing the charred remains of the camp that was engulfed by fire in the early hours of yesterday morning.

How many times had they picked up and carried those belongings, I couldn’t help wondering, as I looked at the haggard faces in that image.

How many times over the past years since leaving their homelands have they had to shoulder enormous burdens when faced with no choice but to escape the trauma, violence and instability that has bedevilled their lives since leaving troubled countries like Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Sudan among others?

It was only a few years ago that such images of weary families trudging over the mountains and deserts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East fast became indelibly etched into our collective consciousness.

Those pictures, too, of the flimsy overcrowded dinghies and terrified families stumbling ashore also seared their way into our mind’s eye here in Europe. These were scenes not witnessed since the Second World War and compelled many of us to rally to the humanitarian cause they so emotively evoked.

But like the cherished family snapshots that over the years I’ve seen so many such refugees carry with them wherever they go, those pictures that so moved us seem to have faded from our same collective consciousness. These days, after all, we have problems of our own to deal with here in Europe in the shape of a pandemic and wrangles over an impending Brexit.

That the Covid-19 virus is no respecter of refugees any more than it is anyone else seems not to have occurred to many of us. Neither has the fact that in places like Moria, where people are crammed cheek by jowl, the luxury of clean water with which to guard against any disease is a rarity.

Who cares, goes the current thinking, about a generation of young refugees damned when the threat of organised house parties by some of our own young folk focuses our minds right now?

And speaking of threats, why have so many here in the UK both inside and outside government relentlessly portrayed handfuls of desperate people paddling their way across the English Channel as if it were the biggest threat to “Great Britain” since the Spanish Armada, Napoleon’s Navy or Hitler’s Nazi invaders?

It doesn’t seem to matter that those arriving in dinghies and small boats only made up 0.59% of immigration to the UK in 2019, it gives the political right the clarion call they need. That it serves also as a convenient distraction to the political incompetency on our own doorstep also goes without saying.

Not that any of this right-wing scaremongering and British patriotic outrage will mean much to those refugees who in the weeks and months ahead will still brave the English Channel, just as others do the Aegean or Mediterranean in search of a better, safer life.

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FOR those uprooted these past days from Moria, the political priorities of leaders in Britain or Europe will barely register alongside the need to find the next meal or safe bed and shelter for the night.

Ignoring these pressing needs of refugees and migrants is no more an option than secretly expelling them, as the Greek government have done lately, sailing many to the edge of the country’s territorial waters and abandoning them in inflatable and sometimes overburdened liferafts.

Greece is not alone in such callous acts, of course. Just this week human rights group Amnesty International, in a damning report entitled Waves Of Impunity, detailed how Malta is using “even more despicable and illegal tactics” to turn away refugees and migrants from North Africa.

It tells how the island nation has arranged “unlawful pushbacks to Libya”, diverted migrant boats to Italy and illegally detained “hundreds of people on ill-equipped” offshore quarantine ferries. All this activity was going on long before Covid-19 presented itself.

The rights group also criticised Maltese authorities for signing a new agreement with Libya to stop migrants and refugees leaving the conflict-ridden country. European Union member states, insisted Amnesty, “must stop assisting in the return of people to a country where they face unspeakable horrors”.

And this is the bottom line here, for the EU cannot continue to simply try and sweep the plight of refugees under the carpet and out of sight of public gaze.

Not only is such a policy morally reprehensible but unrealistic given that far from receding, the flow of refugees and migrants is set only to intensify in a world where conflict, poverty and climate change leaves millions with no other option if they are to survive.

As American author and journalist Sonia Shah details in her recent new book The Next Great Migration: The Story of Movement on a Changing Planet, “by 2045 the spread of deserts in sub-Saharan Africa is expected to compel 60 million inhabitants to pick up and leave. By 2100 rising sea levels could add another 180 million to their ranks”.

Put simply, our planet is changing and so must our responses to those human beings and other species caught up in the adverse effects of that change.

As the fire that destroyed Moria still smoulders, the blame game has started, with some saying local right-wing activists were responsible for starting the blaze and others blaming the refugees themselves.

Whatever the cause, Moria camp is no more and 13,000 people have once again been uprooted. It is to the shame of the European Union that they have had to suffer all over again.